Public Alert; 2011 elections, danger looms!

Year 2011 is just a couple of months away. On May 29 of that year, the four-year tenure of the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration is expected to terminate while a new elected government takes over. But while the change of baton is much more desired, there are ominous signs that the quest the conduct of a free and fair 2011 elections will remain a mere dream.

According to the INEC timetable presented by the former Chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu , where the constitution is amended and a new electoral act is made, governorship and state legislative elections will hold on January 15, 2011; presidential and National Assembly elections will take place on January 22, 2011 while possible run-off elections will hold on January 29, 2011.

The 2011 elections are barely 6 months away, yet the Independent National Electoral Commission has not been availed of the constitutional and electoral framework that will guide the 2011 elections.

The need for a constitutional and electoral framework is germane. This is a set of rules that will guide the totality of the electoral process. It is not that these rules are nonexistent. At present, they are contained in the 2006 Electoral Act, which was used for the 2007 and subsequent elections.

The Act itself took its root from the 1999 constitution. But the National Assembly is reviewing the constitution in line with some recommendations of the Uwais committee.

Among the recommendations are that the INEC boss be appointed by the National Judicial Service Commission and its funds put on the first line charge from the Consolidated Revenue Account.

The recommendations are to ensure full independence for the electoral body thus freeing it from possible executive muzzling. Although the National Assembly voted for retaining the status quo whereby the President appoints INEC chair, it is not clear whether its decision will be overruled or endorsed by a majority of the nation’s 36 houses of assembly. 

The appointment of Professor Jega by President Goodluck Jonathan in disregard of the recommendation Uwais-led Electoral Reforms Group is unfortunate, and a mockery of the campaign of the civil society for electoral reforms. Even at that, INEC is yet to have a full complement of its national commissioners.

The voters’ register has not been reviewed and updated; (and) the political elite also appear unrepentant in their resolve not to allow the votes of the people to count.

But the fear is that the constitution review may not be completed in time to pave the way for an amendment of the electoral law before the next general elections. Now there is a prescribed period of time when the election timetable ought to be released to the public. Should the commission fail to meet that condition it would not have satisfied the requirement for conducting an election. What that means is that anybody could go to court to stop the election or ask for the cancellation of one held in that circumstance.

Iwu recommended that elections be held six months ahead of inauguration to give room for the determination of election petitions. Were that recommendation to be followed, elections would be held coming November for the new government to be inaugurated on May 29, 2011.

 It is also accommodated in the proposed Electoral Act 2010. Where, on the other hand, the constitution and the electoral act are not amended, the elections will be held on April 9, 16 and 23, 2011 respectively and post-election disputes can continue in the tribunals and courts even after winners are sworn in as the case has been since 2007.

The first timetable recognises early commencement of election activities suggesting that party primaries for all elections be held between May 2 and July 31, this year while issuance of notice of elections should take place on August 2, this year. Thus, party primaries should have commenced by now while notice of elections is expected to be given by INEC less than three months away. But none of those is happening or is about to happen.

Then comes the issue of a credible voters’ register which by law should be updated periodically by the commission and copies released to every political party “within 60 days after each year” in accordance with section 11(3) of the 2006 Electoral Act which deals with continuous registration of voters. The commission has been neglecting this aspect of its assignment except in few states such as Lagos. This apparent negligent has, according to some observers, resulted in the fraudulent listing of names of non-Nigerians and dead people on the register as it occurred during the rerun elections in Ekiti and Anambra states, for instance.

In the recent case of the governorship election in Anambra State, many voters were disenfranchised because they could not find their names in the voters’ register. Many concerned politicians have been calling for the compilation of a new register, saying the existing one had become a fraud.

TELL Magazine says former governor of Lagos State and frontline member of the Action Congress, AC, Bola Tinubu has described the voters’ list as fraud because its database in the INEC registry lacks any integrity. Similarly, the Labour Party has called for the immediate replacement of the register.

Another looming danger is the fact the do-or-die electoral system perfected by former president Olusegun Obasanjo is rearing its ugly head. Recent reports indicate that some politicians have been importing arms, ammunition and police and military uniforms ostensibly to disrupt the election.

According to the TELL Magazine, last month, the Nigeria Customs Service impounded a consignment of military camouflage, police bullet-proof vests, handcuffs and other items illegally shipped into the country through the cargo area of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. Michael Adewole, area controller of the NCS at the airport, told newsmen that the items were brought in by some Nigerians to use in the coming elections. “This illegal importation is a way by the bad eggs to kill and maim as the elections come closer,’’ according to Adewole.

The fact that some politicians have been killed in cold blood in some parts of the country has heightened fears that the next elections may be a bloody affair. This is underscored by the high level of political intrigues, back-stabbing and betrayal within virtually all the over 50 registered political parties in the country culminating in lack of internal democracy within the parties. Again, most of them are so fractured that they hardly reach consensus on any issues talk less of conducting simple elections to pick their officers or primaries to present candidates for elections.

In view of all the above, we like many Nigerians wonder whether Jonathan will keep faith with them and whether his promise that their votes will count will be fulfilled.  Indeed, Nigeria, almost 50 years after independence, needs credible elections, which have for decades eluded the country.

The TRANSFORM NIGERIA MOVEMENT will issue a Press Release on the 2011 elections tomorrow. When released, we ask all members to give it the widest possible publicity:

Post it on your facebook, post it on any Nigeria forum you belong to or to any facebook group of which you are a member, publish it on your blog-sites, send it to any journalist or to any Media house you know, make it available to any politician or to any government official you could – the battle for a credible 2011 elections starts now!